Cahill leaves City: Why, how, and what next?

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    Well, less than a month after he made a televised demand for more playing time, Tim Cahill now finds himself unemployed.

    A mutual termination of his contract, agreed to by Cahill and Melbourne City, has left the Australian football-loving public wondering what will come next for their greatest ever player. Although the news yesterday prompted a sharp intake of breath, we were forewarned; the post-victory grandstanding after Australia secured their World Cup berth was enough, but the hallmarks of Cahill’s late-career have not been stability and permanence.

    He has played for four different clubs since 2012, and his departure from City – having been their main marketing stud – shows just how shallowly Cahill’s roots dug down in Melbourne. 

    So, how are we to view this? What kind of light is thrown onto the silhouette of Cahill rambling off over the horizon? Clearly, the credulous view to take – not entirely unreasonably – is that Cahill is in earnest pursuit of more playing time, just like he said. The club – rather than allowing a discontented star to sour the dressing room – have given him a running start.

    That would be a remarkably generous position for City to take; when was the last time a football club bent so altruistically – and immediately – to the demands of a player, to the point of foregoing the remainder of his playing obligations, as well as all the commercial benefits retaining him offers? It’s doubtful City have simply freed Cahill up to search for greener pastures out of the goodness of their heart. 

    It bears remembering too that Cahill’s contract with City was reportedly quite heavily front-loaded, meaning his earnings there were set to taper down. Furthermore, the contract was arranged to lead Cahill into a coaching role, a conduit into his post-playing career; has Cahill now suddenly deemed this arrangement too hasty?

    If he entered into this three-year-plan knowingly last year, aware that this was the final club he’d lace up the boots and take to the field for, did he expect to start every game, play the bulk of the minutes on offer, all the way up until retirement? Perhaps he did. 

    Warren Joyce, though, evidently does not subscribe to that view. Cahill is a player that can’t really just be inserted willy-nilly into the starting XI, with minimal disruption to the general coherence of the team. Joyce has deemed it too problematic to try and shoe-horn Cahill in alongside Ross McCormack, while keeping room for the two wingers. This problem will only be complicated further when Bruno Fornaroli returns.

    Joyce is cooking City up into a team to his tastes, and Cahill is not an ingredient in that recipe. City conceded in the first half against Newcastle last weekend, and came back to win. They still have, in spite of their recent ho-hum run of results, the second best defence in the league.

    There is a new, stolid side to City, that was not there last season, or the season before that. The club have let the most marketable player in the league walk away; it’s hard to think of a more emphatic way to assert their level of faith in Joyce’s vision. 

    So is Cahill’s decision purely fuelled by the wholly understandable and supportable desire for more minutes? He will need to play regularly – though not necessarily more regularly than he was at City – if he’s to make a fourth World Cup.

    In all, 29 players have actually made playing appearances in four or more World Cups, and that list is indicative of searing talent as much as it is longevity: Pele, Maradona, Cafu, Gigi Buffon, Lothar Matthaus, and Paolo Maldini, this is the group that Cahill will join if he kicks a ball in anger in Russia next year.

    There’s a huge diamond, cut and polished, ready to be set into Cahill’s professional legacy, and he needs to be in the best position to reach out and take it. 

    Will it be another A-League club that satiates Cahill’s desire for playing time? Without even broaching the subject of Cahill’s wage demands, how many clubs even need a 38-year-old starting striker? Sydney FC and the Victory both have established starters that they would be unwise to demote.

    Newcastle and Perth also have leading imports in that part of the pitch. Brisbane have spent a marquee slot on Massimo Maccarone, as have the Wanderers on Oriel Riera. The only teams left, then, are Central Coast, Adelaide and the Phoenix.

    Would Cahill play in Wellington, and could they afford him? Adelaide have been mooted as a possible destination, and it could be viable depending on how much salary cap space Karim Matmour’s departure has freed up.

    Central Coast look as though they could use Cahill; the activity Paul Okon’s system promotes occurs out on the wings, with Daniel de Silva, Andrew Hoole and Connor Pain at their best charging at defence from wider positions. Right full-back Jake McGing, dispatcher of a number of venomous crosses against Perth on Sunday, would also appreciate having Cahill – still one of the best headers in world football – to aim at too.

    Whether Cahill would slot comfortably into Okon’s young team, who are rallying impressively behind their manager’s philosophy, is another question, as is – in all cases – the question of the salary. 

    Roy O'Donovan of the Mariners (left) is confronted by Tim Cahill of City

    (AAP Image/David Crosling)

    Keeping in mind the marketing money Cahill carries around with him, no one is arguing Cahill should short-change himself, and take a pittance salary at his next club. But really, it would undermine Cahill’s entire reasoning to see him price A-League clubs out of the bidding, and sign with a cashed-up Asian team in Korea, Japan or the Middle East.

    Whether he’d be more regularly utilised there is questionable, and he’d certainly be less visible. Of course, the foundation that supports Cahill’s argument is already crumbly. What happens if the next Socceroos manager – to be decided on by a committee of ex-Socceroos, as well as a consultancy service – decides that, no matter how many minutes he’s getting, Cahill isn’t part of his World Cup plans?

    He’s still probably our second-best striker, and on all recent evidence is still out best big-game – see: World Cup – player. But he is old, and the attribute he’s most known for – namely applying forehead to leather – isn’t one that modern managers really game-plan around.

    What if the new man heads in a different direction, so to speak? Then all this agitation will have backfired, and Cahill will have succeeded only in highlighting his decision to put personal ambition ahead of team success, and his capricious regard for a position as figurehead of one of the league’s newest, most ambitious clubs. 

    Stepping back and surveying the scene in cool terms, this seems an almighty gamble for Cahill to take. He is banking on a team, that needs him and can afford him, picking him up soon. This team needs to be fine with the fact that Cahill is clearly prepared to call out the manager publicly if his minutes drop too sharply, and that he’s focused primarily on the World Cup, and not necessarily the immediate ambitions of the club.

    They also need to be playing in a league good enough and near enough to catch the attention of whoever next fills the position of Socceroos manager. Does such a team exist?

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.